The sign on Black Hollow Road outside Abingdon said there would be gospel singing Friday and Saturday. The three-chord melodies and four-part harmonies of gospel singing are rooted in the region just as much as the September tobacco crop. Taking part in the fifth annual gathering of gospel singers were duos, trios, quartets, and even larger family bands from Tennessee and Virginia, with names like The Victory Way and Blood Bought. The concept of spiritual redemption through Jesus Christ shedding his blood during his crucifixion on Mount Calvary is central to both the music and the religion which nourishes it. References to the saving virtue of Christ’s blood caused singers to raise a hand in testimony to this redemptive power. As a young blind woman played “Amazing Grace” on the harmonica, three singers behind her raised both hands.
Closing the festival was the gospel quartet from the sponsoring church, Heavenly Rest Free Will Baptist. During the group’s performance, one of its members – preacher Charlie Harmon – began testifying in a manner similar in speech patterns to the cadences of Martin Luther King, Jr. The common element must have been the Baptist church, since the population of southwest Virginia and east Tennessee is almost completely Caucasian, including Charlie Harmon and all in attendance at the gospel singing.
Harmon’s testimony sprung from the song the quartet had been singing. He would make a sound almost like a hiccup, or sudden inhalation of air, before sing-songing several more sentences about how God had saved him and was more than good to him as each day brought him closer to home in heaven with Jesus. Gentle cries of “Amen” rose from the audience. Harmon’s testimony rose to a high pitch of urgency as he said that the end of time was near because the predicted signs of children turning against parents and parents against children were present in the world. “How can this not be what happens when parents no longer raise their children in the Lord,” Harmon shouted.
“Amen,”said members of the audience. “Pray for him,” said one.
After Harmon and the quartet had concluded, one of its members said that it was a special time when the Spirit visited, as just had happened that evening on stage at the gospel singing.